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FLASH FRIDAY: A PETER PAN Panorama - Looking Ahead To NBC's 2014 Live Musical Event!

By: Jan. 24, 2014
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Today, in honor of this week's eagerly awaited announcement that the next live musical event to be presented on NBC will be the classic 1954 PETER PAN, we take a look at some of the highlights from the high-flying HISTORY of the family-friendly musical.

I'm Flying

Originally featuring a score by Mark Charlap & Carolyn Leigh, with additional material by Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, PETER PAN has a unique and unusual backstory - even when compared to the bizarre historical trajectories of many in the Golden Age musical theatre canon. Coming hot on the heels of Walt Disney's hit animated movie musical adaptation of the J.M. Barrie story of a magical land and its colorful inhabitants, PETER PAN was actually the second musical adaptation of the property to arrive on Broadway in the 1950s, with the first having come at the start of the decade with a dramatic version utilizing five Leonard Bernstein compositions. Yet, the version that instantly comes to mind for many today, 60 years later, is undoubtedly more often than not the notable Golden Age show we focus on today.

Designed as a showpiece for musical theatre leading lady supreme Mary Martin - not unlike THE SOUND OF MUSIC later that decade; which, as it happens, was NBC's last musical event - PETER PAN began its journey to Broadway at the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera under the supervision of master director Jerome Robbins, who augmented the creative team with show business heavy-hitters Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green following an unsuccessful premiere featuring the original Mark "Moose" Charlap and Carolyn Leigh version of the show, produced by Edwin Lester. Styne, Comden & Green ably abetted the production thanks to their indelible contributions - among them, the haunting "Never Never Land", the rollicking "Wendy", the endearing "Distant Melody", the amusing "Oh, My Mysterious Lady" and Tiger Lily's earworm "Ugg-a-Wugg". Without a doubt, certainly the score is as adored as it is for their additions as much as for the perfunctory and oft-inspired rest of the score as it stands, both then and now.

In a surprising turn of events, NBC offered to broadcast the production on television, with Lester striking an unprecedented deal to do just that The Following March. Furthermore, this would be the first live broadcast of a musical of this nature, with the sets transported to a special soundstage and the show presented in a 90-minute adaptation. With PETER PAN reaching the Winter Garden soon after this deal was struck, the show was announced as a limited run and Mary Martin as Peter Pan and Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook both took home Tony Awards for their well-received work, with the songs going on to become well-regarded in their own time as well as the show itself appearing a solid hit set to entertain the entire nation in the following months. And, it did just that!

On March 7, 1955, PETER PAN was broadcast live on NBC as part of the series PRODUCERS' SHOWCASE and was watched by more than 65 million viewers, a record-breaker for the time. Mary Martin went on to receive an Emmy Award for her performance and it was presented yet again live in 1956, as well. Unfortunately, the original color broadcasts were only recorded in kinescope at the time so future generations have been denied the opportunity to view these broadcasts in their full-color glory. Nevertheless, a color edition appeared in 1960, with the running time expanded to 100 minutes (but with more commercial breaks) and that survives still. Additionally, Mia Farrow co-starred with Danny Kaye in a well-regarded 1976 airing, too.

Subsequent major productions of PETER PAN have tampered with the three-act structure of the original Jerome Robbins version, yet the majority of the material has remained the same. Since Mary Martin, actresses to essay the title role include Sandy Duncan in a well-received 1979 revival along with Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby, who has toured around the world with the show for over two decades, beginning in 1990. Rigby's Broadway bows include the 1990, 1991, 1998 and 1999 special engagement productions as well as multiple world tours and a video version now available on DVD. Of note, a man has actually played Peter once on Broadway, byway of Jack Noseworthy who acted as an understudy in the Tony Award-winning 1989 Best Musical revue Jerome Robbins' BROADWAY.

While Mary Martin is irreplaceable, Mia Farrow, Sandy Duncan and Cathy Rigby commendably brought an arresting charm and appealing verve to the dynamic and plucky part, making this a prime opportunity to truly shine for the lucky lady (or maybe gentleman) chosen by Craig Zadan, Neil Meron, Bob Greenblatt and NBC for this year's sure-to-be must-see musical event.

Never Never Land

So, now, travel back in time and see some of the most notable iterations of PETER PAN over the years as we anticipate this new edition via the NBC live television event coming this December.

First up, view this clip from the original 1955 telecast.

Also, get a look at Mary Martin in the 1956 live airing.

Now, view the entire 1960 NBC broadcast of PETER PAN.

After that, check out Mia Farrow and Danny Kaye in the 1976 airing.

Sandy Duncan performs "I'm Flying" live on Broadway.

Get a gander of the first film version of PETER PAN in 1924.

The Walt Disney version of PETER PAN has its own pleasures.

Jerome Robbins' BROADWAY featured PETER PAN among its celebrants.

Go behind the scenes of Cathy Rigby's revival with this featurette.

View the complete Cathy Rigby PETER PAN, beginning below.

As a special bonus, see this 1955 TV ad for PETER PAN peanut butter - Tinkerbell and "new, wide-mouth jar" included!

For a special treat, witness Peter Pan himself proposing live onstage!

So, what exactly is it about PETER PAN that makes it a beloved and constantly revived musical more than 60 years after its debut? Is it the iconic score and its many memorable melodies? Perhaps it is the classic story itself? Or, is it the timeless message of never wanting to grow up and what that really entails? Whatever it is, PETER PAN is a musical that makes the hearts of all of us leap for joy - no, no: fly.